(From left) National Outstanding Clinician Educator Award recipient, Associate Professor Tan Boon Yeow, with medical director of the National Healthcare Group Eye Institute, Clinical Associate Professor Wong Hon Tym; senior manager of the Singapore National Eye Centre's Ocular Reading Centre Haslina Binte Hamzah; and senior consultant of the Surgical Retina Department and clinical director of the Ocular Reading Centre, Assistant Professor Gavin Tan Siew Wei.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Investment in research and innovation is one of Singapore's key strategies in enabling transformation in healthcare, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Mr Gan told an awards event on Thursday (Sept 5) that the healthcare system has to transform to meet the population's changing needs and ensure that appropriate and affordable care is available for Singaporeans while being sustainable in the long term.

His remarks were exemplified by the range of healthcare professionals honoured for their innovative thinking at the National Medical Excellence Awards.

The winners included the team who devised an improved screening system to assess patients for diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of vision impairment.

The system, which is based on a real-time assessment from photos and conducted by healthcare professionals with the support of an online platform, has screened more than 267,000 patients in polyclinics and has expanded to community healthcare centres and optometry practices.

The future cost savings of the model developed by the Singapore Integrated Diabetic Retinopathy Programme (Sidrp) are estimated to be $29.4 million.

It has also drastically shortened the time needed to complete test reports. Now, 99.8 per cent of tests are completed in one business day as compared with two to four weeks under the old method.

The Sidrp team's work has won them the National Clinical Excellence Team Award - one of six given out by the Health Ministry on Thursday.

The awards were established in 2007 to recognise the outstanding work of clinicians, researchers and educators.

The Sidrp team, led by Assistant Professor Gavin Tan and Clinical Associate Professor Wong Hon Tym, comprise members from the National Healthcare Group Eye Institute and Singapore National Eye Centre.

"We are very proud that we are able to transform the job roles of our allied health professionals and other eye care colleagues," said Prof Wong.

"To have them taking on clinical roles, which is a huge responsibility, and to have them continue to perform at a very high level of accuracy and reliability, is something we are particularly proud of."

Mr Gan, who gave out the awards, noted that the winners have contributed to solutions that have improved healthcare outcomes.

Other winners included Associate Professor Tan Boon Yeow of St Luke's Hospital, who clinched the National Outstanding Clinician Educator Award for his contributions to education in family medicine, and Associate Professor Chua Yeow Leng of the National Heart Centre of Singapore, who was one of the winners of the National Outstanding Clinician Award for his leading work in heart valve repair surgery.

Prof Tan, who is chief executive and a senior consultant at St Luke's Hospital, helped to establish the first family medicine residency programme in the National University Health System.

As part of the programme, he would visit patients with students and assess how they could help people cope better at home.

"For family medicine, it is really important for doctors to realise what patients really undergo when they are at home, because it's when they get back home that it is the real world," he said.

Prof Tan added that the award is a validation for family medicine, especially given that it has always been seen as the "poor cousin of the specialists".

"To me, it's an acknowledgement that the work that we are doing is valuable to the healthcare system."

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